Thursday, April 19, 2012

Game On

I was always good at dodgeball but not in the way you think. When the game would draw to an end and the rest of the team was lined up along the sides, I was usually still on the floor, still in the game, but only because I was good at making myself scarce. My plan? Find that one guy who just blasts the ball at the bare legs of the girls on the other team, who KILLS his opponents before they even have a chance. When the whistle blows and the madness starts, quell the panic, look around, and FIND that guy. Then, stay behind him for the entire rest of the game. I may not be strong or have mad ball handling skills, but I am a strategist. I am smart and quick and I know how to run. Hide. That was my plan.

What was simply a game to some, though, was a life philosophy to me. I learned it early. Out of necessity. Stay out of the way. Stay quiet. Don’t make waves. Be a good girl. Don’t get my ass whipped.

I forget sometimes. I forget to be good. I am five and have been playing with my sisters. I think that I am good, but I am not, for some reason I don’t know, I am not. My dad is yelling. He is yelling at me and headed for the door. I know he is going to cut a switch. I know because he has done this before. I grab the book. I stuff it in the back of my shorts. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe, and I can’t find a place to hide. Where can I hide? Panic. I run screaming, book in my shorts, under the table. He will see me here. I know. He always does, but there is no place else. My mother sits in her chair while my dad cuts a branch from a tree. She picks at her lip, shakes her head, looks at the floor. I am screaming for her to help me. Don’t let him! Don’t let him! Don’t let him do it!! I am screaming and panicked and can’t make it stop. I feel the switch hit my bare legs. I feel it hit again. He doesn’t hit the book. I can’t run. He holds my arm so that I can’t run. I can’t get away. I can only wait, screaming, sobbing. My legs burn. They sting. My face is red and soaked from tears. I can’t get my breath. I take in globs of air, but can’t get my breath. I know that I am not a bad girl, but maybe I am not as good as I think. My mother sits in her chair, picking at her lip, looking at the floor. Why does she not stop him? Why does she not help?

It wasn’t always the switch. Sometimes it was the belt. Sometimes it was the shoe. My mother would hold up her shoe and ask, “Do you want some of THIS?” I wonder what child would ever look and say, “Yes. Yes. Hit me with that thing. Hit me hard so I learn my lesson.” I learned to stay quiet, to keep my opinions to myself, to be strong and brave and silent when I didn’t want to be strong and brave and silent. When the madness starts, quell the panic, HIDE. That is the plan.

Well. I have had enough of that plan. I have had enough of hiding, of keeping my thoughts to myself lest they bother or offend, of not speaking my mind for fear of attack.

And so.

I am witness now to a village at odds. It bothers me to no end. We refuse to help each other, to support and love and care for each other. We look the other way and say “It’s not my problem. I take care of my own.” The assumption is that the one in need of help is not trying, not working, is lazy and selfish. I know a young mother. She is single with two babies. She used to be married with two babies but decided she didn’t much care for being beaten by her husband, didn’t want to chance those babies being on the receiving end of that abuse. She now is a single mother with two young children. She takes classes to make a better life. She takes classes and raises her babies and makes a better way with no car and no family, with sketchy day care, fighting to keep those babies out of the hands of that poor example of a father. She moves forward every day even while forces push her back. Where she finds her strength, her smile, her positivity, I have no idea.

This is what I think. One day those babies will be out in society. They will either be productive, contributing members, sharing their time and talent and gifts, or they will be young, single mothers struggling to raise THEIR babies, struggling perhaps to make a life after leaving a husband who beats them, a husband who after beating them, fights for the right to keep the babies, to raise those babies in an environment of abuse and neglect. “It’s not my problem. I take care of my own.” No. I would say you’re not taking care of your own. Taking care of your own would be realizing that YOUR world is impacted by THEIR world. We do not live in isolation, coexisting simply with our OWN. We live together as a family, as a unit, as a community. That baby you are so eager to pass off as someone else’s responsibility may just save your life one day when you are rolled into the emergency room. She may, IF she is given that opportunity, IF someone has made a difference in her life, IF someone stepped in to help a young mother in need.

Don’t sit back in your chair and complain about the so-called dregs of society when you have done nothing to help break that cycle. I know it’s an evil thought, but sometimes when I hear talk of how these individuals are clueless and selfish and lazy, sometimes I wish that life on you. I wish YOU were that mother trying to raise those babies on five thousand a year, with no car and no family and no insurance, trying to make a difference for her children, trying make a better life, trying to break a cycle. I wish YOU were that mother. Then you would see how amazing she really is.

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